A martinet is a short, scourge-like (multi-tail) type of whip made of a wooden handle of about 25 cm (10 inches) in length and about 10 lashes of equal, relatively short length. The lashes are usually made of leather, but sometimes soap-stiffened cords are used in place of leather. It is a traditional instrument of physical punishment in France (in French, it also meant a similar dusting implement; the type for chastisement was also known as fouet d'enfant, 'child's whip') and other European countries.
The martinet was often applied on the calves, so that the children did not have to disrobe. Otherwise it was usually applied on the bare buttocks, adding humiliation to the physical pain, like the English and Commonwealth caning, birching, naval boy's pussy, American paddling, et cetera.
It is generally considered abusive to use it for spanking children in modern times. Still, martinets were still sold in the pet section of French supermarkets; it is generally believed that a large share of those sold are meant for use on children, not pets, or at least to threaten them. But, nowadays many supermarkets in France have stopped selling the martinet, even in the pet section.
- The martinet is also used as an implement in erotic spanking scenes, hard to distinguish from the flogger, but that is usually lighter.
Martinet as a person
The term was used for an external pupil of a collège (i.e. a kind of French high school, especially Catholic). Jean Bodin, quoting the examination of three witches by Paolo Grillandi of Castiglione at the Castello San Paolo, Spoleto, records that the witches referred to the Devil as Master Martinet (maistre Martinet), or the Little Master (petit maistre).
In English terms
- In English, the term martinet is usually used not in reference to the whip, but to those who might use it - those demanding strict adherence to set rules and meting out punishment for failing to follow them. This sense of the word reputedly comes from the name of Jean Martinet, Inspector General of the army of Louis XIV and thus would be etymologically only by accident related to the earlier sense.
- In an extended sense, a martinet is any person for whom a strict adherence to rules and etiquette is paramount: martinets often use etiquette and other rules as an excuse to trump ethics, to the point that etiquette loses its ethical ground. The Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was famously described as a "strutting martinet" by Time in 1977.
- OED s.v. martinet, n.2, "N.E.D. (1905) gives the pronunciation as (mā·ɹtinėt) /ˈmɑːtɪnɪt/ ."
- "Amin:The Wild Man of Africa", Time Magazine, 28 February 1977
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